A series of lawsuits related to the use of Ritalin were brought during the late 1980s and early 1990s, coincident with the campaign against
ADHD and stimulant medication for children spearheaded by the the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a non-profit anti-psychiatry organization founded by the Church of Scientology.
In one of the earliest cases, LaVarne Parker, mother of a child who had
been diagnosed with ADHD, filed a $150 million federal lawsuit against an
Atlanta area school district, several physicians, and the American Psychiatric
Association (APA). She claimed that her son had been medicated with
methylphenidate at the insistence of the school district and that the drug had
made him violent and suicidal. She charged the APA with fraud, claiming that
the Association deceived the public by supporting an overly broad definition of
ADHD. The case was dismissed in 1988.
Similar cases were filed in Massachusetts, Minnesota and California. At the
time, most of the suits involved alleged adverse side effects of Ritalin, and
defendants included school districts, doctors, and the American Psychiatric
Parker was represented by Washington attorney John Coale who, in another
similar suit filed in Maryland in 1987, was quoted as saying, "We're after the
structure, the system. It's a deterioration, a failure of our school
system. ... Our goal is to put [Ritalin] off the market."
Ten years later Coale is still involved in a number of new class action Ritalin
lawsuits--this time aimed at the drug's manufacturer, Novartis Corporation.
In essence, all these suits charge the drug manufacturer with conspiring with the APA and
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) to invent and
promote the ADD/ADHD diagnosis in order to promote Ritalin sales.
The lawsuits claim that as early as the 1950s, Novartis (then Ciba-Geigy) and
the APA conspired to create the diagnoses of ADHD and ADD, and to include these
illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
to encourage the overdiagnosis of these ailments and to promote
Ritalin as the drug of choice for treatment.
As with a number of other lawyers involved in the Ritalin suits--including
Mississippi attorney Richard Scruggs--Coale previously had part of the
groundbreaking national tobacco litigation in 1998. The Ritalin lawsuits may be
the next class action battleground for this legal team that brought the
tobacco industry to its knees.
The first class action lawsuit was filed in District Court for Cameron County,
Texas on May 1, 2000 by attorney Andy Waters. The case was later moved to
federal court in Dallas. In the complaint, plaintiffs alleged that
Ciba/Novartis conspired with the American Psychiatric Association "to create,
develop, promote, and confirm the diagnoses" of ADD and ADHD "in a highly
successful effort to increase the market for its product Ritalin." This effort
included providing active support to advocacy groups like CHADD, "so that such
organizations would promote and support (as a supposed neutral party) the
ever-increasing implementation of the ADD/ADHD diagnosis as well as directly
increasing Ritalin sales."
The suit also claims that Ciba/Novartis deliberately misled the public by
releasing promotional material about Ritalin that did not address "the many
significant hazards of methylphenidate use and prescription" including
cardiovascular, central nervous system, and gastrointestinal problems, and
The suit attacks the American Psychiatric Association for its relationship with
the drug companies, and alleged that financial donations and contributions from
Ciba/Novartis and other members of the pharmaceutical industry "directly
affected and caused the APA to make every effort possible to support and
confirm a new medical 'diagnosis' for which a stated treatment would be
methylphenidate, i.e. Ritalin."
Dr. Peter Breggin is a medical consultant for the case, as well as for
the California and New Jersey cases (see below). He told FRONTLINE that Andy Waters decided to bring the Texas case after reading
Breggin's book, Talking Back to Ritalin.
Waters' firm, Waters and Krause, hosts a web site--RitalinFraud.com--with
information about the lawsuit, and a form offering information about Ritalin
and soliciting information about users' experience with Ritalin, ADHD, and
Over the several months following the filing of the Texas case,
lawyers from around the country got wind of the lawsuit and many contacted
Waters. Soon, a legal team was formed, including a number of lawyers who were
previously part of the national tobacco litigation. On September 13,
2000, the team brought two new lawsuits against Novartis, et. al.,
filing them in San Diego, California and
Hackensack, New Jersey The new suits
contained in essence the same charges as the Texas case.
The New Jersey case was filed in Bergen County Superior Court. The plaintiff
class is described as "all individuals in the State of New Jersey who have
taken the drug Ritalin."
The lawsuit in San Diego was filed on behalf of all California residents who
have used or bought Ritalin, seeking unspecified damages. On March 8, 2001,
U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster dismissed the suit on the grounds that it failed "to state
a cause of action because of a number of defects, including the absence of any
allegations of causation, actional conduct, or damage." In addition, the judge
ruled that activities by defendants intended to advance the medical
understanding, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD were free speech protected under
California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)
The plaintiffs plan to appeal the judgement. "We're not going away, I
will say that," attorney Scruggs told the San Diego Union
Tribune after the court's ruling. The American Psychiatric Association hailed Brewster's decision as
"a victory for sound medicine and free speech." An attorney for Novartis said that the ruling was "consistent with our view of all of this litigation: that it is contrary to the clear consensus of the medical and scientific community, and an inappropriate subject for litigation in our court system."
However, similar suits continue to be filed by other lawyers across the nation. In November 2000, a fourth case was filed in federal court in Orlando, Florida, on behalf of a
local mother and a Puerto Rican couple. The case was brought by the Florida law firm Stanley, Dehlinger, and Rasher and San Juan attorney Peter Porrata. In February 2001, Porrata filed a fifth case in Puerto Rico District Court. According to a Novartis attorney, these new suits track the allegations in the California, New Jersey, and Texas suits very closely.
When the California and New Jersey lawsuits were filed in September 2000, the
drug manufacturer Novartis issued a general response:
"Any charge that Novartis somehow 'conspired' with nationally prominent
professional and/or patient third-party groups is unfounded and preposterous.
Furthermore, any charge that ADHD is not a medically valid disorder is contrary
to medical evidence and psychiatric consensus."
Novartis supported this statement by citing the NIH Consensus Conference on
ADHD, the American Academy of Pediatrics' diagnostic guidelines on
ADHD, and the fact that the FDA, which only approves treatments for
well-established medical conditions, has approved the use of methylphenidate to
Regarding the charges that its support of CHADD and other advocacy groups
amounts to fraud, since it is an attempt to "hide" its marketing strategies by
funneling them through a supposedly neutral third party, Novartis said that
although they had provided unrestricted educational grants to CHADD, for
projects including a public service announcement on ADHD, and the translation
of some ADHD literature into Spanish, they believed such grants were
appropriate. "Novartis believes that comprehensive care for all patient
populations include education and support as well as medication. Novartis is
proud to help CHADD and other credible third-parties that provide valuable
information to many people."
The APA's written response to the Texas lawsuit claims that the allegations are
"ludicrous and totally false," adding that the lawsuits represent an
"opportunistic attack on the scientific process." CHADD likened the lawsuits'
allegations to accusing the American Diabetes Association of conspiring with
the makers of insulin to invent diabetes.
As of April 10, 2001, the Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Puerto Rico cases are pending.
 Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., No. 00-CV-1839
(S.D. Cal., Sept. 13, 2000) The class representatives are represented by Donald
F. Hildre, Thomas D. Haklar and Peggy J. Reali of Dougherty Hildre Dudek &
Haklar in San Diego; Marc C. Saperstein and Kevin Decie of Davis Saperstein
& Solomon in Teaneck, N.J.; John P. McCoale and Diane Cooley of Coale
Cooley Leitz McInerny & Broadus in Washington, D.C.; Richard Scruggs of
Scruggs Millette Boveman & Dent in Pascagoula, Miss.; and C. Andrew Waters
of Waters & Kraus in Dallas.
 Dawson, et al v. Ciba-Geigy et al.
home · watch the program · four families · adhd drugs · adhd · backlash
readings · adhd in schools · interviews · discussion · the producers · viewers' guide
synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press reaction · credits
frontline · wgbh · pbs online
pill photograph copyright ©2001 photodisc all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation